Tough task against Tyler Bray

Vols passing game could allow for Gators to make big plays

Updated: September 13, 2012, 1:05 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tennessee's potent passing attack presents a much different challenge for Florida's defense than what the Gators faced in the first two weeks of the season.

And the players can't wait.

[+] EnlargeTyler Bray
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireTyler Bray's penchant for deep drops and risky passes will give the Florida defense an opportunity to make plays.
Bowling Green and Texas A&M used short, quick passes, which made it hard for the Gators' front to get much of a pass rush and for the secondary to be in position to make plays on the ball.
No. 23 Tennessee (2-0, 0-0 SEC), however, uses a pro-style passing attack with five- and seven-step drops, which should give the No. 18-ranked Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) more opportunities for both.

It certainly won't be easy -- Vols quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson make up one of the nation's top passing combinations -- but the Gators are just happy to have the chance.

"We definitely know coming in Tennessee is going to drop back and try to get some deep threats," linebacker/end Lerentee McCray said. "They feel like their receivers are probably overmatched for our DBs. So we feel like we're going to have our opportunities to get back there and put some pressure on the offense."

The secondary is the strength of Florida's defense -- even with the loss of cornerback/safety Cody Riggs (foot) for a month -- because of its depth. Sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy and junior Jaylen Watkins have all started games at cornerback in their careers. Junior safety Matt Elam has made 15 consecutive starts, and senior safety Josh Evans has appeared in 36 games with 13 starts.

The defensive staff has also been pleased with the development of redshirt freshman safety Valdez Showers and sophomore safety Jabari Gorman. Both played extensively last Saturday against Texas A&M after Evans went down with a shoulder injury. Evans is expected to play against the Vols.

But what sets apart Hunter and Patterson -- who have combined to catch 26 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns in Tennessee's first two games -- from some of the league's other receivers is their size. Hunter is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, and Patterson is 6-3 and 205 pounds. They're physical players who are a matchup problem for smaller defensive backs.

The Gators, though, are bigger at corner than they've been in a while. Roberson is 6-0, 178; Watkins is 6-0, 187; and Purifoy is 6-1, 189. That should help in the matchup, UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.

"When you play a lot of press and bump [coverage] like we do, you want some guys who have some length when there are some, what we call 50-50 balls, that are up in the air and can go to either guy," Quinn said. "That's why with those two guys in particular, Roberson and Purifoy, with the length they have, we'll certainly get a lot of work at that.

"Both of them (Hunter and Patterson) are real physical guys and accomplished players that know how to go get the ball, and certainly it's a matchup our guys are looking forward to as well."

In order to win those matchups, though, the Gators have to get pressure on the 6-6, 215-pound Bray. He's the SEC's top passer, having thrown for 643 yards and six touchdowns in victories over N.C. State and Georgia State. But Bray is an NFL-style pocket passer who'll use extended dropbacks.

That should give UF's pass-rushers more time to get to Bray -- theoretically, anyway.

Roberson said he's hoping that forces Bray into taking some chances like he did during last year's game in Gainesville, which Florida won 33-23.

"He's a daredevil," Roberson said. "... We like that."

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter

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